Bingeing on television has become a hallmark of the pandemic. My own obsession has been the Netflix drama "Borgen," produced by Danish public television and originally broadcast from 2010 to 2013. It's fiction that credibly imagines Denmark's first female prime minister. In fact, after the second of its three seasons aired, Helle Thorning-Schmidt became Denmark's actual first female prime minister, and many think the series had something to do with it.
In the story, Birgitte Nyborg, an idealistic leader of a small centrist party, is elevated to the premier's seat due to a series of fortuitous electoral circumstances that forces her to adjust her ideals to parliamentary reality. The show follows certain dramatic conventions, mainly in the conflicts that arise when Nyborg tries to accommodate her private life with her public obligations, but the windmills she tilts at in her political quest are structural and, in that sense, sexist. The female characters have flaws they try to overcome, but the men, even those nominally representing liberal views, are irredeemable for the most part. It's not that Nyborg's male peers resent a woman seeking the level of power they've always enjoyed, but that they take their privilege for granted. Recently, female world leaders have drawn attention for being more effective than their male counterparts at addressing the coronavirus, but it may have less to do with their gender than with the nature of politics that has developed over the centuries under the sole superintendence of men. Nyborg is successful because she defies an element of the status quo that seems inviolable.
This recognition of entrenched political power is the theme of two new Japanese documentaries. The first, Arata Oshima's "Why You Can't Be Prime Minister," has been continually selling out screenings at the Tokyo theater where it opened in June. The movie profiles Junya Ogawa, an opposition Diet member from Kagawa Prefecture who is a walking cliche of political idealism. He sacrifices creature comforts for himself and his family in the pursuit of constructive engagement, switches parties when the inevitable disillusionment sets in and delivers fiery speeches in the Lower House that only political nerds pay attention to.